Tonight's Good Guys was largely fun. The idea of separating Dan and Jack, which the show has gone to surprisingly often in these last few episodes, worked better here than it usually does, as Dan was stuck back in the office, behind a desk, where he finds himself most ineffectual. (Why was he there? Well, apparently, there were signs he was having heart problems, though by episode's end, all of this was cleared up, the better for no one to ever worry about the long-term health of a man who'll dip a cinnamon donut into guacamole and call it a guacamonut.) The criminal conspiracy mostly made sense, and while the doctor was not the funniest subpar criminal mastermind the show has come up with, he wasn't bad all the same. Furthermore, I liked the subtle elements of horror and suspense that trickled around the edges of this episode, like the idea of Dan having a kidney stolen, a fairly dark bit that could have felt out of place but didn't.
That said, have you noticed how predictable the show has gotten? To some degree, this is because it's been with us for so many episodes that its rhythms are much more apparent than they were at the show's beginning. Yet most shows (even the most formulaic ones) don't serve up as many plot points on a platter as this episode did. From the start, it was obvious that the femme fatale was playing all sides and would eventually be recruited to play Dan. It was obvious that Dan's ring tone would come back at the end to play a major role. It was obvious that Dan Stark's medical file would end up playing a massively important role in the fencing subplot, and it was obvious that at some point, the allure of busting punks would get him out of the office (well, this last one was the good kind of predictability).
Obviously, The Good Guys has never been the world's most subtle show, but if I were to put my finger on what's been off about the show since it got into the back part of its season, I'd say that the subtlety has gone down to just about zero. Plot points are underlined and then highlighted and then bolded and then italicized, just in case we didn't know what was happening. Major characters are explained over and over and over again, and the story itself may as well be spelled out by a chimp in the corner holding up cue cards. The show has never been complicated or hard to follow or anything, but it sometimes feels as if the major network note for the show was that it lost viewers due to its complexity, and, thus, the back half of the season has been filled with moments where it feels like the show has lost absolutely all faith in the audience. For a series that started out with a run of episodes that asked the audience to keep up while it laid on the cop show clichés thick and heavy, that's been a disappointing turn to make.
It's possible that the writers received the note to make the show easier to follow, then decided to just keep their normal complicated structure and underline it with lots and lots of exposition. I think it's more likely, though, that the show hasn't caught on because, for whatever reason, this sort of show just isn't what people turn to broadcast TV for anymore, preferring to find it over on cable, where there's a whole network devoted to light, character-driven action procedurals. The Good Guys is too well-produced to be a USA show (even the most expensive shows on that network occasionally look like they've been shot for whatever the properties department could find down at the Dollar Tree), but at its heart, it is one, and I wonder if that isn't why audiences tuned out in droves after the pilot.
But the question isn't how to get those viewers back, at this point; the question is how to keep the viewers the show has had. The series isn't a barn-burner, but there was a point when it might have made sense to bring it back every summer for 13 (cheap) episodes. That time has probably passed, as the ratings have gotten worse and worse. And I can't help but think that the network's chasing of the mainstream audience has cost it some of the cult audience. Our own readership here has dipped from week to week to week, as people who seemed to be following the show fervently checked out over time. I've said again and again that I think the show as originally conceived had a few too many rough edges to work, but one of the appealing things about it was that it HAD rough edges. Had the writers picked a few of them to focus on and smoothed out a few of the others, I doubt anyone would have noticed. Instead, they seem to have spent each week focusing on a new rough edge, while sanding all of the others down, then focusing on one of the ones ignored the previous week in the very next episode. It's made the show feel more schizophrenic than it needed to.
In tonight's episode, the potentially offputting element (that's probably a better term than "rough edge") emphasized was the complicated plotting in the criminal storylines. One of the reasons this episode works better is because it starts out like a fairly typical bottle show (are we really going to spend all episode with Dan in the office?), then abruptly shifts into a stereotypical episode of The Good Guys, as first Jack heads out with his temporary partner, then Dan finds a way to leave the office and gets caught up in a body part hijacking ring. The plot with the doctor was structured very similarly to a classical film noir (there are echoes of Double Indemnity throughout), complete with femme fatale, normal man who's gotten caught on both sides of the law, and menacing criminal mastermind who's hoping to eliminate the normal man once and for all (and reap the financial rewards). There was more to it than this, but I liked the way the show played around with these archetypes and having Jack and Dan bumble into this situation was inspired.
So if "Silence of the Dan" wasn't the greatest episode ever, at least it felt like the show was really emphasizing its ability to tell these kinds of complicated stories (even as a few too many of the plot points were underlined too heavily). And another nice aside was the way the show continues to play up the many characters in this universe that it's built over time. Sure, Samantha is a relatively new creation, but it really does feel like the writers have made an effort with Liz and Lt. Ruiz since they came back for the fall (with last week's episode being a bit of an exception), and the usage of Julius and the bald, good cop in this episode reminded me of how well constructed this precinct is as a TV universe. What's too bad about this back half of the season is that it feels like the show knows how close it is to nailing down its formula, but it just keeps trying things to see what works and getting further and further from that rare thing that might make the show a big hit.
- A pretty good night for laughs, yet I seem to have written down a surprisingly small number of lines. At the same time, I very much enjoyed the idea of the "guacamonut."
- "If you wanna caress the biceps of a brawny rookie, why don't you do it in private?"
- "More murderer's murderin', more druggers druggin', more flashers flashin'."
- "Looks like some sort of elephant man or something."